Free and legal MP3: Shout Out Louds (satisfying, full-bodied indie rock)

A sparkling nugget of melodic, full-bodied rock’n’roll, 2017 style, “Oh Oh” is a good example of a song where my ear is caught more by a “moment” than an all-out hook.

Shout Out Louds

“Oh Oh” – Shout Out Louds

A sparkling nugget of melodic, full-bodied rock’n’roll, 2017 style, “Oh Oh” is a good example of a song in which my ear is caught more by a “moment” than an all-out hook. For me, it happens in the pre-chorus, first heard at 0:47. After the long descending melody of the verse, the music here feels inordinately satisfying, an effect boosted by lyrics that shine with both denotation and connotation: front man Adam Olenius sings “Don’t say that it’s over/’Cause nothing ever is,” and it pops with both energy and poignancy in this setting.

As for actual hooks, “Oh Oh” has them, but they’re sneaky. We actually get the main one in the introduction—it’s the guitar riff/”Oh oh” combination heard at 0:15—but, interestingly, it doesn’t come across as a hook right there; the guitars are subtle, deeper down in the mix than your classic guitar riffs tend to be. This hook requires context, it seems. When the riff returns (1:03), it feels closer to completion. When it finally gets reassembled, with the “Oh oh”s on top (1:57), well what do you know? I think we have ourselves a hook.

All that is semantic, of course: hooks, moments, riffs, whatever—I’m just trying as ever to put words onto what is going on in a piece of music, trying to translate the listening experience into writing. Dancing about architecture, in other words. As usual.

From Stockholm, Shout Out Louds have been together since 2001. The band was featured previously on Fingertips in 2009, for the dramatic, slow-building “Walls.” “Oh Oh” is the first single from the band’s upcoming album Ease My Mind, their fifth, due out on Merge Records in September. MP3, one more time, via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Almanac Mountain (ambling vibe, classic rock undertones)

There’s something wonderfully out of time about the ambling vibe of “Harborside”; it has the feel of a lost classic-rock nugget while not really sounding all that classic-rock-y.

Almanac Mountain

“Harborside” – Almanac Mountain

There’s something wonderfully out of time about the ambling vibe of “Harborside”; it has the feel of a lost classic-rock nugget while not really sounding all that classic-rock-y. I think it’s the unhurried, three-note sampled-strings synthesizer riff that we hear in the intro and which anchors us throughout that brings the joy here—it’s got a bit of cartoon loony-bin about it, in maybe a Pink Floyd- or Supertramp-ish way. (And those are two groups that didn’t have much to do with each other, I realize, except for being British and thriving in the ’70s but in retrospect, here we are.)

The riff, traveling from the home tone to the major third to the augmented fourth, has an inherent majesty, which throughout the song plays engagingly against the loopier touches (the opening, standalone flourish; the jaunty, bridge-like chorus; the intermittent interjection of warbles and odd sounds; the abrupt, oceanic ending). The subtle mirth here also for vague reasons brings some of classic rock’s better efforts to mind, as underneath the rock’n’roll mindset, however dressed in frills and gilding, has been an understanding that we can’t be taking it all too too seriously. I have long contended that when music can make you smile, independent of lyrics, there’s something substantive going on.

Almanac Mountain is the name that New Hampshire-based Chris Cote has given to his work as singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer. “Harborside” is the closing track on his latest album, Cryptoseismology, released last week. It’s the third full-length Almanac Mountain album, and note that Cote’s sound with the project tends to have a heavier, ’80s-ish sound to it (Depeche Mode this time more than the Smiths), which makes “Harborside” all the more curious and lovable. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it either digitally or physically, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: The Bicycles (breezy yet substantial)

“Sun Don’t Want to End” is nearly as good as a truly breezy song can be (angst-ridden songs that merely sound breezy don’t count).

The Bicycles

“Sun Don’t Want to End” – The Bicycles

One of the more difficult songwriting challenges in the pop world is how to write a song that’s breezy on the one hand but substantive enough to be worth listening to on the other. Go too easy-breezy on us and the thing floats away from the ear, substance-free (and often insipid and annoying to boot). Another way to go of course is to write a song that sounds breezy but is actually full of angst. That can deliver the substance to be sure, but it’s sort of cheating, no?

“Sun Don’t Want to End” is nearly as good as a truly breezy song can be, and the main reason, my ears tell me, is its stellar opening riff—a snappy, tappy ringing guitar that sounds like what you might get if you major-scaled the Smiths. It’s an incisive little jig, at once familiar and unplaceable, and trusty enough to serve as both a stand-alone introduction and melodic counterpoint to the verse. I like it when bands can weave together two melodies like that, one vocal and one instrumental—it’s an old-school move only to the extent that analog, three-dimensional music skills are required for this kind of boppy integration. From there we are delivered into an extra-breezy (not to mention super-quick) chorus with just the right touch of ’70s-radio suspended chords before being hooked back into the central riff, which, in slightly fleshed-out form (0:53) sounds now like a long-lost friend. The second verse plays with the melody in a satisfying, offhand way—the “Just be good to me/And I’ll be good to you” part, at 1:08—but it turns out we were indeed supposed to notice that, since the song closes on an extended jam featuring those very lyrics. And sure, if you want to be a spoilsport, you could complain that the song goes on for probably a minute too long in that vein, but hey, it’s breezy and fun and good: no need to rush these guys out the door, is there?

“Sun Don’t Need to End” is from the album Stop Thinking So Much, the band’s third, which is coming in April on Fuzzy Logic Recordings (Toronto) (vinyl, digital) and Aporia Records (CD).

photo credit: Christa Treadwell

Free and legal MP3: Slowdim (sturdy, potent power pop)

“Money” hearkens back to decades of rock radio hits without any air of contrivance or over-retro-ism.

Slowdim

“Money” – Slowdim

A winner from beginning to end, “Money” is shrewdly constructed but gloriously unfussy, its pure (power) pop heart hearkening back to decades of rock radio hits without any air of contrivance or over-retro-ism. Songs this well-built rarely sound so free.

It begins with a “two-level” intro—10 seconds of restrained warm-up, the guitars swirling and jangling but as if from maybe the next room; then, the real thing, with a full-bodied, sing-along lead guitar riff that first grabs attention and then gets out of the way so the song can start. Less obvious than the great guitar line here is the note with which the bass launches said guitar line (listen carefully at 0:11), a nifty music-theory maneuver that adds subliminal texture and alerts the ear, however unconsciously, that what follows is worth listening to. I like too how the two-part intro is a subtle mirror of the heart of the song, with its two-part chorus. Speaking of which, listen to how what you might call the pre-chorus (first heard at 0:45) is itself a great hook and yet feels incomplete without the arrival of the true chorus. Note that the song’s title derives from the pre-chorus—another subtle songwriting trick, simultaneously adding substance to the pre-chorus while creating, via the pre-chorus’s unresolved melodies, an emotional demand for the second part, which delivers a spirited release with its layered harmonies and gratifying, descending melody.

Not to be confused with the British shoegaze band Slowdive, Slowdim is a four-piece band from Boston that has been together for about a year, although various combinations of its members have known each other for a good deal longer. “Money” is the band’s first single. They are currently recording their debut album. MP3 via the band.

Free and legal MP3: The Dogs (edgy stomper w/ fuzzbox riff)

In this charged-up, edgy little ditty, The Dogs win me over with that unanticipated gang-style shout of “Hey!” that kicks things into gear at 0:23, demarcating the moment when “Dance More” flips from acoustic crispness into deeply satisfying heaviness, with that two-guitar, fuzzbox-powered riff, as crunchy and classic-sounding as all great guitar riffs must be.

The Dogs

“Dance More” – The Dogs

The ongoing surprise of what may prove to be aurally alluring in any given song is one of music’s perpetual delights. In this charged-up, edgy little ditty, The Dogs win me over with that unanticipated gang-style shout of “Hey!” that kicks things into gear at 0:23, demarcating the moment when “Dance More” flips from acoustic crispness into deeply satisfying heaviness, with that two-guitar, fuzzbox-powered riff, as crunchy and classic-sounding as all great guitar riffs must be. Singer Peter Walters takes over from there, his amiable, shouty voice backed, here and there, by some yelping, trumpet-like sounds.

And the thing is, I didn’t realize quite how much I loved that “Hey!” until it came back, just one more time, at 2:14, to finish up what it had earlier started. That moment of recurrence is so perfect—on the one hand, I had almost forgotten about it; on the other hand part of me was clearly waiting for it again—that the entire song becomes retroactively energized. Truth be told this is a rather an odd and disarming piece of work. There’s no real sense of verse or chorus here, just one unhurried descending melody sung in two slightly different variations. Then we get the yelps; then one separate line of lyric, with a more or less one-note melody that’s kind of spoken/sung; then the crunchy riff. We cycle through this curious series twice, and this is somehow a song. And yet with the “Hey!”s as bookends, “Dance More” glows with the bracing vitality of something large and luminous, and all is right with the world.

The Dogs seem to be centered around Chicago, yet the four members are at this point widely scattered—in Minneapolis, in Washington, in Boston, and, go figure, in Norway. The band’s debut album, Camping, was self-released digitally in March, and that’s where you’ll find this song. The album is available on a pay-what-you-will basis from Bandcamp. Thanks to the band for allowing Fingertips to host the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Wheels On Fire (garage-y stomper w/ vivid riff)

“I’m Turning Into You” – Wheels On Fire

There’s something about the summertime that makes this sort of driving, garage-y stomper, complete with wheezing keyboards, the perfect soundtrack for warm breezes and open car windows. (And for anyone roughly in the neighborhood, what about a big shout-out for the amazing summer weather we’ve been having in the mid-Atlantic so far? The nicest I can possibly imagine for July: warm blue days, cool starry nights, no air conditioning necessary.)

Front and center in the song–the first thing you hear, and what the song is framed on–is an urgent, unadorned guitar riff: five tinny chords, strummed in a relentless rhythm: one; two; three; four-five. The beauty of the great guitar riffs is that they can kind of resemble each other–this one concludes in “Sweet Jane” territory–even while banging out their own piece of the rock’n’roll rock, as it were. A great riff doesn’t have to be surprising, as a great melody must at some level be, and yet it can’t be nondescript either. Rhythm and chord placement is everything; the effect is more primal than intellectual (think “You Really Got Me”; think “Roadrunner”; think “Alex Chilton”). This one rocks, which is all it’s trying to do, and all it needs to do on another ideal July day.

Wheels On Fire is a four-piece from Athens, Ohio. You’ll find “I’m Turning Into You” on the CD Get Famous, which was released back in February on Big Legal Mess Records, a label with a distribution deal with Fat Possum Records. MP3 via Big Legal Mess.